Head coach Mike Krzyzewski and Carmelo Anthony shake hands after the men's gold-medal game at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at Carioca Arena 1 on Aug. 21, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro.
RALEIGH, N.C. — After spending most of the 24 hours following Team USA’s gold-medal victory traveling back to Durham, North Carolina, Mike Krzyzewski was not in the mood Monday to reflect on the past 11 years as coach of the USA Basketball men’s national team.
But who could properly put Krzyzewski’s tenure at the head of the national program into perspective?
The Americans went 88-1 under Krzyzewski’s tutelage, winning six of a possible seven gold medals, including three triumphs at the Olympic Games. The United States’ last loss was to Greece in the 2006 FIBA World Championship semifinals some 77 games ago.
But none of that matters to Krzyzewski, who simply wanted to go home and get reacquainted with his dog after five weeks immersed in the world of international basketball that culminated in him becoming the first coach to lead the Americans to three Olympic gold medals.
“I really just want to go home,” Krzyzewski joked about his immediate plans after landing at Raleigh-Durham International airport Monday morning, with his family flanking him by his side. “I’m not sure my dog knows me. I’m glad my grandchildren are with me so they know me; my wife says she still knows me.”
Even after his team won the gold medal with a dominating 96-66 victory over Serbia on Sunday, Krzyzewski said he wanted to stay in the present and celebrate the accomplishment. A long night of travel attitude didn’t change that, even though he understands he is no longer coach of Team USA.
“I’m still in the moment of this moment,” Krzyzewski said. “I tried the whole time to not be in the moment of 10 years, but to be in the 2016 moment, and I am in that moment. I think sometime along here we’ll look back at the time. The fact that you are no longer the national coach, that hasn’t necessarily set in — but it is reality — because you’ve been that for the long time.”
Although he will never admit this year’s victory was more special than his first two gold medals, Krzyzewski faced plenty of additional hardships this cycle.
It all began with several notable stars pulling out of the Games either due to injury or simply to rest after the rigors of the NBA season. Then there were the close victories in pool play that stirred up panic back home and heaped more pressure on a team that entered the competition with a gold-or-bust mentality.
The coach said the biggest factor in those narrow wins was Team USA trying to compete against countries in which players had already built a camaraderie with one another, something the Americans hadn’t mastered yet in just three weeks.
“It’s only a short time that we get a chance to put these teams together,” Krzyzewski said. “No matter how good they are individually, they’re never going to have the continuity of the teams we play against. … You can’t really practice against it … so we had difficult times but we learned.”
The United States used those lessons to find its stride in the medal rounds, blowing past the competition with relative ease. It all culminated in what Krzyzewski called the team’s best performance of the tournament — the 30-point blowout of Serbia to win the gold medal.
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Krzyzewski said the key to the improved performance was the defense adjusting to the international style of play. After surrendering at least 88 points in each of its last three pool-play games, the Americans did not allow 80 points in any of three medal-round games.
“I thought we kept getting better, and we were at our best in the medal round,” Krzyzewski said. “Our defense adjusted to the type of play we had to play against … so the guys played really well defensively and I’m proud of them.”
With the Games concluding, there is plenty of speculation about the 69-year-old Krzyzewski’s future involvement with USA Basketball. He said he has no interest in one day potentially succeeding Jerry Colangelo as USA Basketball’s managing director, saying the job is too corporate for him, but he will help new coach Gregg Popovich transition into the role.
Popovich was with the team during its Las Vegas training camp prior to leaving for Rio de Janeiro, and that gave Krzyzewski enough confidence that the five-time NBA champion coach could continue the success.
“We have an incredible infrastructure,” Krzyzewski said. “It’s kind of like in college when you go from being a team to being an outstanding program. We have an outstanding program right now. … It’s built to last, and with Pop taking over and Jerry staying on, I think you’ll see continued commitment by players.”
Josh Walfish is a North Carolina-based freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.